Freelance journalist Sara Manisera is accused of defamation for a speech on the infiltration of criminal clans in northern Italy in which she quoted the Abbiategrasso area
OSSIGENO 7th October 2022 – In September 2022 the administrators of the Municipality of Abbiategrasso, which is part of the Metropolitan City of Milan, with a resolution of the Council instructed a lawyer to file a lawsuit against the freelance journalist Sara Manisera for serious defamation, because she linked the name of the municipality to mafia dealings , in a speech she gave on June 8th 2022, in Cutro, in the province of Crotone, during a public meeting on the occasion of the ‘Diego Tajani’ National Youth Award.
The journalist said she was baffled by the lawsuit. She publicly clarified that with her words she did not intend to formulate any accusation against the administrators of Abbiategrasso and added that she used the word ‘municipality’ only to indicate the area. To defend herself against the accusations, which she deems groundless, she has asked for the assistance of Ossigeno per l’informazione.
LEGAL AID – Ossigeno‘s Free Legal Aid Office, that is supported by Media Defence, has accepted the request, because the freelance journalist deserves to be helped and this legal case is of strategic importance to make people understand how in Italy, due to punitive and anachronistic laws, a journalist of proven social commitment can easily be accused of defamation and forced to clarify her words in court with the assistance of a lawyer, without any attempt to clarify the facts.
THE SENTENCE disputed by the Municipality is this: “In Abbiategrasso, in the province of Milan, I saw the mafias penetrating the municipality, public tenders, and above all inside the cement business because one thing the mafias like so much is cement, e.g., shopping centres”.
Sara Manisera pronounced it, just after she had received the Diego Tajani Award precisely for her civic commitment. The ceremony was attended by the prosecutor of the Republic of Catanzaro Nicola Gratteri, the writer Antonio Nicaso and the mafia expert Isaia Sales, as they were also given awards for their civic commitment.
THE CONTEXT – On June 8th Sara Manisera gave a long speech. She spoke of her experience, addressing the students present, inviting them to protect the environment, to defend their area, emphasizing two points: the mafias are not only in Calabria, they have arrived everywhere, even in northern Italy, and they invest and launder part of their illicit proceeds in building speculation, showering the land with concrete. Therefore, she had added, to defend oneself from mafia infiltration, the first priority is to defend the environment. She had spoken of the Abbiategrasso area because it is far from Calabria on the outskirts of Milan.
OSSIGENO‘S OPINION – To find a defamatory meaning in that sentence you have to take it out of context, isolate it from the rest and interpret it in the most mischievous way possible. But this should not be possible in a country where there is freedom of speech, that is, of expressing oneself freely even in form and where everyone has the right to freely express ideas and opinions and to argue them with general examples.
The meaning to attribute to a single sentence of a speech is taught by linguists, even before jurists. Linguists explain that many sentences and even many words alter their meaning depending on the context in which they are used. This ambiguity is one of the virtues of the Italian language. No one should feel so offended to go to a judge without first asking the perceived offender to publicly clarify the meaning of a statement because in a democratic society argumentation and fair play must shape the relationship between citizens and institutions. The Municipality of Abbiategrasso could have easily clarified the meaning of those words, before setting in motion the machinery of justice and spending citizens’ money on lawyers. In this way there probably would have been no offence and no lawsuit. Sara Manisera would have explained the specific meaning of that sentence; she would have said that she was referring not to the municipal administration, but generically to the territory of Abbiategrasso and its history, not immune from the past presence of mafia-type organizations.
THE JOURNALIST – “I am a journalist – declared Sara Manisera – and I have the right to inform and criticise.Obviously I am always available to discuss publicly what I think and say about the fight against the mafias, which is a topic of public interest, it is not just a collection of legal cases. The words I said in Cutrò, I said it then and I repeat it, refer to the municipal area of Abbiategrasso and are well-founded statements. Many elements (criminal sentences, university research, reports from the L’Osservatorio sulla Criminalità Organizzata dell’Università degli Studi di Milano (Observatory of the University of Milan on organized crime ) have shown the presence of criminal clans and individual members of mafia-type organizations in the Abbiategrasso area for decades. The pervasiveness of the mafias in the economic, social, cultural and political fabric takes place across several fronts. And the area of Abbiategrasso has not been excluded. One must remember that it doesn’t mean saying that municipal administrators are or have always been accomplices to these illegalities, quite the contrary. If anything, it means that they too must pay close attention to the forms of infiltration of mafias into municipal areas, in economic, commercial and construction activities. I would like municipalities to talk about it too, instead of denouncing (inter alia spending public money) those who talk about it”.
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